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PENNSAUKEN, NJ-The Camden County Improvement Authority is shelling out $13.2 million for the 35-acre Pennsauken Mart, a 50-year-old shopping landmark, but the county agency isn’t interested in operating a shopping center. The complex, which is more flea market than traditional shopping center, sits on a 35-acre site within a larger 65-acre tract earmarked for redevelopment.

If all goes as planned, the shopping center and several other privately owned buildings within the redevelopment zone will be razed to make way for a $65-million civic center. The centerpiece of the redevelopment will be a 6,500-seat arena that would be the home of a minor league hockey team–to-be-named later. The authority has hired consultants Stafford Sports to work up the financial numbers.

The authority is buying Pennsauken Mart from EMK Penn Realty, which has owned the venerable shopping institution since the late 1980s. The sale agreement took close to three years to work out, with EMK Penn Realty holding firm to its $20 million asking price for most of that time.

Called the Crossroads, “the civic center will be a catalyst for a community development project that will transform that area into a showplace of community pride and economic development,” according to Camden County freeholder Louis Cappelli, Jr., in a prepared statement. Cappelli has been a driving force behind the project.

Under the terms of the sale agreement, the authority will effectively become the manager of Pennsauken Mart, but not for long. The sale is expected to close by the end of this month, and authority officials say they will operate it as a shopping center only through the end of September. Existing leases will be effectively cancelled when the sale closes, and tenants on the roster who remain until it closes will operate under month-to-month agreements.

Authority officials also say they have set aside $1 million to help tenants, most of them mom-and-pop retailers, relocate to other facilities in the region. A primary destination for many of them could be the Festival Marketplace in nearby Willingboro, NJ.

Demolition of the existing structures is slated to begin in October, and authority officials hope to have the arena and related uses open by the end of 2006. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, Atlantic City, has kicked in $24 million worth of grant money to help the project along, and construction will be funded in part by county-backed bonds.

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